Fayette County Auditor Aaron Coole responds to lawsuit alleging secret ballot


Aaron Coole issued a public response Friday to the lawsuit that alleges his appointment to the Fayette County Auditor position was done in an unlawful executive session by secret ballot.

Coole was appointed as Fayette County Auditor by the Republican Central Committee after a vote April 13 during a meeting in Washington Court House. The following week a lawsuit was filed in the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas alleging the April 13 meeting violated Ohio open meeting laws.

The lawsuit complaint filed in April was amended twice and most recently May 30 by three members of the Republican Central Committee: Jomi Ward, Mike Smith, the county’s former auditor, and county recorder Cathy Templin. According to the plaintiffs’ complaint, the other 26 members of the Republican Central Committee entered into executive session and voted by secret ballot, did not keep minutes of the meeting and unlawfully appointed Coole as auditor.

Coole said in a phone interview Friday that the lawsuit is unfortunate and discouraging. He said the way the meeting was conducted isn’t the real reason the lawsuit was filed.

“It’s unfortunate that we have a former auditor and a sitting county recorder who didn’t get the outcome of the vote they wanted, so now they’re suing the current auditor, the county and the committee on a technicality on the way the meeting was ran,” said Coole.

Coole said the lawsuit was filed because some members of the Republican Central Committee didn’t want Coole to be appointed as auditor. There was another candidate bidding for the auditor’s position: Brenda Mossbarger.

Mossbarger worked in the Fayette County Auditor’s Office for the past 20 years, but this doesn’t mean she gets to be auditor, said Coole.

When former auditor Mike Smith retired March 10, that left the central committee with the responsibility of filling the auditor’s position. Smith recommended to the committee that Mossbarger be appointed to fill his position. At the April 13 meeting, Coole said a vote was taken and that he won fairly by more than one vote.

“[Ward, Smith, and Templin] are suing the auditor’s office, county and entire central committee because they don’t like the vote. It’s discouraging on a lot of levels. Mike retired in the middle of his term — Mike doesn’t get to pick the next auditor, Cathy doesn’t get to pick the next auditor. I didn’t anticipate this level of animosity. I just want to set the record straight,” said Coole.

Coole said the animosity in part comes from the established political quorum of Fayette County.

“I feel like there’s a lot of elected officials in Fayette County who have been in their position for years and years and years and years and years. They just kind of — talking about Mike and Cathy specifically — can think they can pick who the next auditor is. While Brenda might have been a good auditor, there was a system in place to process and place the next auditor. While being there 20 years is good, that doesn’t mean you get to be the next auditor,” said Coole.

Coole offered an analogy to the situation.

“That would be like working at a factory for 20 years, and when the president retires, you think you’re automatically the next president because you worked there for 20 years. I’m not saying Brenda would have been a bad auditor and I have nothing bad to say about Brenda, but I’m saying that’s not how the process works. I think the whole situation is completely out-of-hand and very unfortunate. Just because Brenda was in the auditor’s office 20 years, that doesn’t mean she gets to be the next auditor. When the auditor retired in the middle of his term, the committee gets to appoint the next auditor,” said Coole.

Coole said the lawsuit has caused a lot of angst within the committee. The members of the committee are public servants who don’t get paid for their work with the committee, and Coole said they aren’t deserving of the lawsuit.

“The only thing that happened is the outcome didn’t go the way that certain people thought it would go. This is 100 percent based on the outcome, this doesn’t have anything else to do with anything else but the outcome. I was very naive in thinking I would be accepted by the establishment. I appreciate the committee. Obviously some of them didn’t vote for me but there were several who did,” said Coole.

Coole said the members of the committee didn’t go into the meeting with the mindset that they were going to mess anything up, and regardless of any meeting technicalities, he would still win the vote. But had he not won, he said he wouldn’t make a big deal about it.

“If I would have lost that vote, I would have shook Brenda’s hand, congratulated her, and walked away. There would have never been a suit. We wouldn’t be talking about an open meetings issue. I would have gone about my life,” said Coole.

Due to the pending nature of the lawsuit, Coole said he is not at liberty to discuss the details of the vote results.

Plaintiffs Ward, Smith, and Templin have hired attorney Patrick Quinn at the Columbus law firm Brunner Quinn. Rick Brunner’s wife, Jennifer, is the former Ohio Secretary of State.

According to Coole, the Republican Central Committee does not collect monies from taxpayers to fund its operations. Other members of the committee have not returned requests for interviews.


By Ashley Bunton

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Timeline of events

1996 — Brenda Mossbarger becomes employed at the Fayette County Auditor’s office as a clerk in the bookkeeping department.

2006 — Mike Smith elected as Fayette County Auditor, winning the general election with 1,598 votes over Democrat Dale Bishop.

2010 — Smith runs unopposed and is re-elected as county auditor for another four-year term.

2014 — Smith is re-elected as county auditor in unopposed general election.

March 10, 2017 — Smith retires from the office of the Fayette County Auditor.

April 13, 2017 — Fayette County Republican Central Committee holds open meeting to vote on appointing the next county auditor. Coole is nominated to the position, allegedly receiving more votes than Brenda Mossbarger.

April 19, 2017 — Jomi Ward files a complaint in the civil division of the Fayette County Court of Common Pleas alleging the April 13 meeting violated Ohio law.

April 20, 2017 — Ward amends the complaint.

May 10, 2017 — An entry filed states the complaint faced dismissal for not meeting certain legal requirements.

May 30, 2017 — Complaint amended a second time.

June 7, 2017 — Amended complaint served by certified mail to 26 members of the Republican Central Committee.

Ashley may be contacted by calling her at (740) 313-0355 or by searching Twitter for @ashbunton

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